Writing with rheumatoid arthritis
I was eighteen when I developed RA. My mother had been diagnosed with the same condition five years before, so when my knuckles discoloured and ‘puffed up’, it was immediately investigated. It took five years before I was given my diagnosis.
I lived in Bedfordshire at the time. Now in Dorset, married for seventeen years to Garry, and with two children, Eleanor, thirteen, and Alex, nine, I have lived with RA for nearly thirty years.
It was during the summer holidays of 2007, having undergone surgery to partially fuse my wrist, my mum passed me a book by Jill Mansell. I enjoyed it so much, I literally read it from cover to cover, and at the back was information on the Romantic Novelists Association and their New Writers’ Scheme, set up to help develop romance writers.
I’d always enjoyed reading, and had written poetry since a young age and song lyrics for a local band in which I sang in my twenties. Prompted by my discovery of the New Writers’ Scheme, and sporting a rather hefty back-slab cast on my left arm, limiting what I could do, I decided to write ‘that novel’ I’d sworn was inside. I’m right handed. It was the perfect time.
Over the next six years, whilst raising a young family and caring for my disabled mother, I practised my art, attended romance festivals, conferences, and writing workshops, and built my online presence and writing profile. I threw in the odd singing competition too!
The RA affects many of my joints, but my hands have suffered the most. I was referred to a hand surgeon at Dorset County Hospital, Mr Sean Walsh FRCS (Tr and Orth), who, with his wonderful team, have taken care of my hand function. I’ve had synovectomies, a knuckle replacement, joint rotations, fusions, and tendon repairs and grafts.
During one operation, as I chatted with the theatre staff, I thanked them for keeping my hands in good working order. I explained I was an aspiring author, hoping to one day become published. I recall a member of the team joking about being acknowledged in the book. There and then, prostrate on the theatre table, one arm dead to the world, having its ruptured tendons repaired, I smiled, and said it would be an honour to acknowledge them.
That day arrived. My debut novel, Truth or Dare? was released by Choc Lit UK in October 2013.
Without the constant care of Mr Walsh and his amazing team, I might not have achieved my dream of publication. I use my hands to type, and although I’ve been advised to use voice recognition software to save my fingers and save the pain, I love to write. I love to hold a pen and make it glide across the page. I like to sit at my desk, tap away at my ergonomic keyboard ‒ even with the letters merging as my clumsy fingers hit several keys at once ‒ and pause to create imaginary worlds, invent complex characters, and devise romantic conflicts and resolution. I need time to think, and that would translate into dead air on a dictaphone.
Yes. I have rheumatoid arthritis ‒ I get fatigued and I live with pain. Yes. I inject 50 mg of Enbrel into my thigh every week, and yes, I have surgery on a regular basis, but I have achieved my dream.
I am both thankful and grateful to the team that keeps the tools of my trade in working condition. They are miracle workers, and they deserve the acknowledgement.
You can follow Laura at www.lauraejames.co.uk or on Twitter @Laura_E_James
Winter 2013 by Laura E James